Skip to main content

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

What is truly valuable?  As a species humanity seems constantly preoccupied with this question, starting from our individual perspective, and building up to our families, our parish, our community, all the way up to the entire world view.  Whole industries have grown around this idea of value, from the advertising industry that tries to convince you of the value of what they’re selling, to insurance companies that can set a monetary value on everything, including your own life.  Our faith tradition also has some thoughts on this question, as addressed by our readings this week:

Wisdom 7:7-11
Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30

Our first reading is from the Book of Wisdom.  You may recall that we had a passage from this book three weeks ago, but by way of reminder, the Book of Wisdom comes to us from the Jewish community in Alexandria some 50 years before Christ.  Typical of wisdom literature in the Bible, it’s meant to be an aid to teaching the faith and what is important in life.  In this week’s passage, typical of this genre, wisdom is anthropomorphized as a beautiful woman, with her beauty and splendor far beyond that of any gem, or gold, or silver.  The passage means to challenge our perceptions of what is valuable.  Those things we normally consider to be of value are worthless next to wisdom itself.  Our Psalm has us praying “that we may gain wisdom of heart.”  But that prayer is also a recognition of our sinfulness, and a cry for mercy and recognition as we turn our work toward the Lord so that we can realize his blessings.

Playing on the idea of wisdom being more valuable than gold, our Gospel takes us to the story of the rich man asking Jesus what it takes to inherit eternal life.  Not only is the man dejected by Jesus’ answer, but the Apostles are confused, and seek not once, but twice for clarification.  As is typical for most scripture, however, we need to scratch below the surface to find the truth lying underneath.

On the surface Jesus seems to be chastising the rich, as if wealth itself were the sin, a theme you may remember from our passage from James a couple weeks ago.  In that reading the sin was not wealth itself, so much as it was the manner in which that wealth was obtained (Behold the wages you withheld from the workers…).  Similarly in today’s gospel, the sin isn’t wealth, but rather the inability to make a sacrifice by doing more.

By all rights the man in our story was an upstanding citizen, living by the commandments.  While that is commendable, however, it’s not enough.  Jesus is teaching us not to be satisfied with the status quo… but instead we need to continue to grow.  Once we’ve accomplished one thing, we need to build on that experience and accomplish something else.  Jesus is essentially saying “You did something good.  Great!  What are you going to do tomorrow?”

One of God’s gifts to us is our ability to learn and grow… to evolve (not a dirty word to Catholic Christians).  Our lives are not static, and neither is our relationship with God.  What we accomplished yesterday was good for yesterday.  It gives us the strength, confidence, and wisdom to accomplish something today.  But the good we do today means little if we don’t do something with it tomorrow… and the next day, and the day after that.  There is always more we can do, and there is always more out there that needs to get done.  Which takes us to the larger lesson of our Gospel, that we need to be willing to make sacrifices in order to accomplish what is needed.

Love, by its very nature, involves a sacrifice.  Ask yourself… if you love someone, would you do anything for them?  That, by definition, is a sacrifice on your part.  A new parent sacrificing their sleep and freedom to care for their baby.  The ultimate expression of this idea is Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for our salvation.  Love is an “all-in” game.  But as Jesus is trying to explain to his disciples, that sacrifice not only leads to rewards in this life, but in the next.  A life lived in service to the Gospel is a ticket to eternal life.

How do we know this is true?  The answer lies in our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Here we are taught that “the word of God is living and effective,” and that Word can be found in our scriptures.  The Bible is often referred to as “the Word of God.”  While this “Word” may be coming to us through its flawed human authors, the message is consistent and clear… we must love God, and love one another.  We are also reminded, however, that God knows our hearts.  Is our love genuine?  Is what we do in the service of our neighbor done in the true spirit of service or are we looking to get something out of it?

Final Thoughts:
Do readings like this make you feel uncomfortable?  They should.  I know they make me feel uncomfortable.  But that’s exactly the point.  We shouldn’t ever feel comfortable.  We should never be complacent about our faith or our relationship with God.  Like any relationship, we should never take it for granted.  Don’t get me wrong… you don’t need to “earn” God’s love.  Like a parent, he gives that love unconditionally.  But a relationship is also reciprocal… action and reaction.  God has certain expectations for us, as scripture has taught us.  But one kind act doesn’t mean you’re finished.  Rather, our faith is a continual growth process, building on past successes, learning from past failures, in order to become the best version of ourselves.  Are we prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish this goal?


Popular posts from this blog

Post-Lent review... How did you do?

Lent is now behind us, yet in our excitement for Easter (and for Lent being over), how often to you take a moment to look back at your Lenten journey to do a post-game review?

As a volunteer leader and business school graduate, the concept of doing a formal "review" after an event or activity is a long held important practice... one that, unfortunately, tends to get overlooked even at the highest levels.  Still, it remains a staple of standard practice, and for good reason... It affords those involved, and the entire organization, a chance to review everything after the fact... what went well, what didn't, and lay the groundwork for next time.  The same is true for looking back at our Lenten journey.  So... how did you do?

I have to be honest, I sometimes fail to practice what I preach.  For as important as a post-lenten review might be, I hadn't thought of the idea until now.  I didn't even really think about it until this morning when I read the following artic…

Nuns and Nones... continued...

On 6-24-2016 I wrote a brief commentary on what we call the "nones"... that is, those people who check the box that says "none" when asked about their religious affiliation.  That commentary was based on an address by my former high school's principal at their 2016 graduation address.  But this topic of the "nones" returned to my attention with this article posted on our daily Angelus News email from the e-magazine Crux:

Notre Dame debuts digital platform to reach young Catholics, ‘nones’
Please take a moment to read it... 

Of particular interest is the increasing number of "nones," those people who claim no religious affiliation. I first heard this term a few years back from one of the speakers at our LA Religious Education Congress. The term itself grew out of a 2012 Pew Research study that showed this rising trend. Working as I do with the RCIA and Adult Faith Formation, this was a known issue, but the Pew study validated what ma…

5th Sunday of Easter

What happens when you have too much of a good thing?  When a business wins that lucrative new contract or expands into a new location?  Or taking that same idea a bit closer to home, what happens when two families merge through marriage, or when a family welcomes a new child?  We consider this kind of growth to be a good thing, but as with all things, these successes also come with their own baggage.  Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Easter have our Apostles facing similar challenges in the face of their growing successes.

The Word for the 5th Sunday of Easter Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

Our reading from Acts of the Apostles learning the hard way about the challenges that grow out of their continued success when their number of followers continues to grow.  Up to this point the Apostles have been doing their best to address the needs of the community, both spiritual and physical, but the community has grown so large now that they are becom…